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Commentary: Saving Erie County's Libraries

By Barbara Jezioro

Buffalo, NY – As the Erie County budget crisis continues, the state of our county is rapidly going from bad to worse. The latest outrage is the proposed gutting of the Erie County Library System. This move may please people like Joel Giambra, who seems intent on gutting not just the libraries, but the entire county, and it will probably make the director of the library system, Mike Mahaney, happy. He's been on the consolidation bandwagon since the rejected Aaron Cohen strategic plan of 1998. Also enthusiastic is the Town of Tonawanda Library Board which plans to shut down both the Greenhaven and Brighton branches this fall. This decision coincides with the County Executive's offer of $2.5 million to build a brand new "hub" library which "elated" town officials would like to build on Sheridan Drive near Delaware Road.

Am I alone in thinking this a poor idea? There already exists a large library in the vicinity, the Kenmore Library, also on Delaware Road and approximately one mile away. Will the residents of Tonawanda, be better served with the addition of another "big box" library so poorly situated? If the county can make available $2.5 million in funds from general obligation bonds for new construction, why can't they find the money to close the library budget gap?

I know I am not alone when I say that I love our branch libraries. I grew up in the City of Buffalo and my family never owned an automobile. Among my most treasured memories of childhood are the frequent walks I made to the local library. When libraries close, children suffer, especially those in the city of Buffalo, where 27% of the residents live below the poverty line. For many of these children, particularly those from the inner city, the small neighborhood library is a safe haven, often the only one available.

Additionally, a number of libraries, like the Fairfield and North Park branches, are architecturally unique and each reflects its residential setting. Offering much more than just borrower services, each branch gives a sense of community since most are within walking distance and if a city, town or village is to be lively and vibrant, it must have pedestrian friendly venues.

Consolidation and closure might make more sense, if we had a better mass transit system. Just try taking a bus anywhere, even in the city, and you'll see how frustrating it is. At a time when our nation is more dependent than ever on foreign oil, and with gasoline prices skyrocketing, embracing a policy that forces even more automobile use simply doesn't make sense.

The number of libraries a community has speaks volumes about its priorities. Instead of talking about the large number of libraries as if it were a problem, officials should be using our wealth of libraries as a marketing tool. I'm certain they'd find a lot of people who'd be more than enthusiastic about moving to Western New York, especially when they find out that that this area boasts more pedestrian friendly libraries per capita than any other place in the country.

Listener-Commentator Barbara Jezioro is an environmental engineering technician who lives in Buffalo.

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